A 3,400 plant rural marijuana operation – that police estimate is worth $10.2 million – turned into a violent crime scene Thursday morning when deputies shot a Hispanic man associated with a pot farm operation near Mount Madonna County Park south of Highway 152 before arresting him several hours later.
Marijuana grow suspect Alvaro Sanchez, 24 of Morgan Hill, endured a non-life threatening gunshot wound after Santa Clara County Deputy Justin Harper shot him once in the arm at 11:45 a.m. The wounded Sanchez turned himself in near the crime scene around 3 p.m.
Dozens more deputies from Santa Clara County, Santa Cruz County, SWAT and the California Highway Patrol rushed to the scene – about 15 miles west of Gilroy city limits. Officers did not arrive at the pot growing operation until around 2 p.m. because of a grueling two-hour hike to the location, according to Santa Clara County Sheriff Sgt. Jose Cardoza. No deputies were injured.
A second suspect, another Hispanic male, remains at large as of Friday after fleeing the scene earlier in Thursday. Deputies continue to try to identify him, but as of Thursday night, but the search has been called off.
Cardoza said that people who live near Hecker Pass should assume that he is armed and dangerous.
Cardoza said he is unsure of how the events Thursday morning transpired, but did say that deputies located two rifles on the scene – it has not been determined whether those rifles were drawn or fired by the suspects.
Santa Clara County deputies of the Marijuana Eradication Team arrived on the scene at 7 a.m. to eradicate the illegal grow, after having first received tips on it in March, the start of the marijuana investigation season.
While the reason why the deputies fired is under investigation, Cardoza suggested that the suspects were likely violent.
“They’re not going to shoot someone for no reason,” Cardoza said, as helicopter flew overhead at Mount Madonna County Park. “Those involved in illegal grows will do what it takes to protect their operation from poachers and can be very dangerous.”
Cardoza said the estimated 3,400 plants in the grow have an approximate street value of $10.2 million dollars.
Since the operation was significantly south from Mount Madonna County Park and Highway 152, both the park and the highway were open to the public as of Thursday afternoon.
The marijuana investigation is now on hold because the shooting investigation has taken precedence.
Sanchez remains at a local hospital as of Friday afternoon, but is expected to be transported to Santa Clara County Jail soon.
This isn’t the first time a marijuana operation has turned violent in Santa Clara County. Since 2005, three officer-involved shooting incidents have occurred in the county over rural marijuana grows.
Cardoza said that this grow may be in connection to a larger operation or cartel.
“But right now I can’t say for sure. We’ll know more about that when our investigation concludes,” Cardoza said.